In the last decade, the mining activity has been in the eye of the storm in many ways. State Governments like Karnataka, Goa and Odisha have been at the receiving end from the apex court. Finally at the instance of the same court, a new document came into effect in the current year and got the approval as a law. Bhanu Bhatnagar (read article on page 34) has taken a detailed stock of the policy document. ICR takes a brief overview of the policy and some of the developments on the equipment side. The development new mineral policy was at the instance of a direction from the Supreme Court issued in August 2017. The Court, while delivering its judgement on "rapacious" mining in Odisha's mining districts "Keonjhar" and "Sundargarh" observed that such mining activities have destroyed the environment and forests and caused much misery to local communities, the tribal in the area.
The document clearly states that mining should be environmentally sustainable and equitable; there remains a serious question on how effective this policy will be to ensure environmental protection, ecological conservation and safe guarding people's rights in the mining areas and around. While the policy pays more attention to boost the mineral production on large scale, with the underline slogan of the Government for "ease of doing businesses"to attract investments. A number of measures have been suggested in the main document. Let us now consider few of the salient features of the new policy.
The new mineral policy, takes into account non-coal and non-fuel minerals only. One of the most important points of the policy has been to increase the production of major minerals by 200 per cent in seven years. This is with the aim to support the Government's Make in India initiative and to improve economic growth. Though the new policy aims to increase the production in a massive way so as to reduce the trade deficit, it has also sought to address many fundamental problems associated with mining activities, over and above fulfilling the sector's economic mandate.
Create exclusive mining zones and simplify clearances, which will come with in-principle statutory clearances for grant of mining lease to curtail delay in commencement of mining operations. Main in-principle clearance is tied to forest land diversion for non-forestry purposes.
The policy mentions that in case of delay, there shall be provisions for the project proponent to "generate triggers at higher level" in the online portal of clearances. The environmental clearance (EC) and forest clearance (FC) process over the past five years have been streamlined and simplified by making it single-window clearance for the convenience of the project proponents. However the policy lacks in making the clearance process robust and comprehensive to improve the quality of assessment. The after clearance monitoring could have been strengthened. The process still remains bureaucratic in approach, with little focus on protecting environment and community.
The major shortcoming in the policy is inadequate guidance to have effective closure of mines. The closure should have covered, one the physical closure of the mine and the second is the financial closure. Both the subjects could have been addressed in a better way. For instance, as per the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules (2017), Rs 3 lakh per hectare for"A" category mines and 2 lakh per hectare for category "B" mines, which have been granted on a non-auction basis. This is very low in global comparison, where the costs are at least five to six times higher. However, the Policy does not give any clear guidance to improve the situation.
The use of instrumentation coupled with internet is going to bring in sea change in the mining industry. There is going to be less involvement of human element in remote and hazardous areas. Some companies have already taken lead to start driverless trucks and trains for movement of raw minerals to ports. Use of data for upkeep and maintenance of equipment is going to be the next big thing and all this is going to happen, sitting at one corner in a far away office.